Auburn University Space Program launches state's first student-built satellite into space

By Candis Birchfield, College of Sciences and Mathematics

 

 

The Auburn University student-built satellite, AubieSat-1, was launched into space and is now orbiting the globe. The launch occurred at 4:48 a.m. on Oct. 28, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a NASA-sponsored Delta II rocket. The construction of the satellite was part of the Auburn University Student Space Program, and AubieSat-1 is the first student-built satellite in the state to be accepted by NASA for launch. Numerous universities and individual ham radio operators around the globe signed up to help track AubieSat-1, and the first signal was received shortly after launch from Vigo University in Spain. The signal was also heard as far away as Japan and as near as the University of Alaska.

"We have received messages from all over the world from people who have made communication with our satellite," said J-M Wersinger, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics and Auburn University Student Space Program director. "It's just amazing."

The satellite orbits the globe every 96 minutes, with about four of the daily orbits presenting optimal conditions for Auburn University students to connect with AubieSat-1. As they make a connection, the students' first command will be for the satellite to say "War Eagle" in Morse Code. Auburn's famous battle cry, heard from space, will indicate that the satellite is operating correctly.

The satellite is a "cubesat," which is a 4-inch, cube-shaped satellite that is used primarily for research. Once released from the rocket, AubieSat-1 had two antennas come out – one for receiving signals from Auburn University and one for sending signals back to Auburn. The students built a control center in Allison Lab from which they will give the satellite commands to execute, as well as receive data from the satellite such as temperature, battery charge and voltage, and power from the solar cells. The students will ultimately measure the decrease of solar cell efficiency over time on protected versus non-protected solar panels.

Securing a spot on the rocket for the satellite was a competitive process. AubieSat-1 was selected in July 2010 by NASA and is one of only five cubesats in the nation to launch aboard the Delta II rocket.

The program is operated solely by undergraduate students. Approximately 100 students have worked on the current satellite, and the goal of the program is to give them a unique experience working in teams on a space experiment and promote workforce development.

"We do things the students do not learn in class. The classwork is extremely important and useful, but it's not the whole story," Wersinger said. "In order to get a job, companies would like people to have skills, like being able to work in teams on projects, understanding what a deadline is, understanding how to work with people, to communicate, and the basics of management and systems engineering. It's not book learning. It's practical learning."

The students designed, built and tested the satellite, and took it to California for a Mission Readiness Review, which they passed with flying colors. Finally, the satellite underwent some tests before being shipped to California for integration into a Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, a satellite deployer known as a P-POD, that was placed in the launching rocket with the four other cubesats.

The Auburn University Student Space Program is part of the College of Sciences and Mathematics. AubieSat-1 is sponsored by Auburn University and the Alabama Space Grant Consortium. For more information on AubieSat-1, go to the website at www.space.auburn.edu.

Last Updated: Oct. 28, 2011

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